Brandon Beachy (SP - ATL): The remarkable career path of Brandon Beachy continues to amaze me. Undrafted out of college, Beachy landed a contract through tryouts with the Braves. The lack of pedigree immediately landed Beachy a bullpen role which is where he spent most of his minor league career (77 appearances, 22 starts). No matter where he was he kept dominating (10.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 2.54 ERA) and eventually pushed his way into a rotation competition last year. About 14 months later and opponents are still having a hard time touching up Beachy. On Thursday night Beachy gave his best performance of the young season shutting out the Marlins in a complete game effort that yielded just 5 hits, 0 BB's, and came with 6 punch-outs. The fact Beachy is continuing to have success isn't particularly surprising, but the way he's doing it this year is a bit surprising. Beachy's K Rate has dropped considerably as he's generating fewer chases (26%, last yr 34%) and swinging strikes (7.2%, last year 11.8%), but instead having success with far more GB's (43%, up from 33%). While the results have been strong so far (5-1, 1.33 ERA) this isn't sustainable long-term. Beachy's benefiting substantially from a .192 BABIP allowed and 77.3% LOB%. His expected BABIP based on the 16.8% LD Rate allowed is closer to .290, which is in-fact his career BABIP allowed. The good fortune has actually masked some serious deterioration in what was an elite skill set. Last year Beachy posted a stellar 3.16 xFIP, but this year his xFIP has risen to a more average 4.01. If Beachy is unable to maintain the great swinging strike rates he posted last year and conversely the great K Rate, he's going to be a drastically less valuable starter. Now is an opportune time to cash in on Beachy while the peripherals are showing deterioration and his results are ascending.
Paul Goldschmidt (1B - ARZ): It's been a slow start to the season for Goldschmidt (.231/.300/.352) as he's struggled to build off a solid debut in 2011 while showing some growing pains at the big league level. Goldschmidt has seen his chase rate rise to 30.5% (25.4% last year, league average = 28.1%) and his swinging strike rate rise to 12.7% (11.9% last year). Contact issues and the resulting K Rate was something that most owners could swallow with Goldschmidt as long as the power was there. Given Goldschmidt had posted a .600+ Slugging % at every level, owners felt like the power was a given; early on though Goldschmidt's power has been absent. A 43% GB Rate is in line with what Goldschmidt posted last season, as is a 37% FB Rate. The real problem is an inflated infield fly ball rate (14.3%) that is sapping the power and driving down the BABIP (.292). The slow start has brought a number of questions about whether Goldschmidt, who accelerated quickly through the DBacks minor league system with just under 1400 PA's, is really ready to handle big league pitching. There have been rumblings around the Diamondbacks organization that Goldschmidt may be vulnerable to being sent down, which brings additional risk to owning the young slugger. After maintaining early season confidence in Goldschmidt's ability to make adjustments, his lingering struggles coupled with the pressure of a demotion have tested my faith. I've relinquished Goldschmidt in traditional 10 and 12-team leagues. In deeper leagues his upside merits patience, but pay attention to the news-flow surrounding the Diamondbacks plans. If Goldschmidt gets demoted it would likely be for an extended period of time.
James McDonald (SP - PIT): It's getting harder and harder for me to write off whatever the heck has gotten into James McDonald over the last month. McDonald continued generating an absurd amount of strikeouts as he K-ed 11 over 5 2/3 innings in a win against the Nationals. McDonald was pulled after just 86 pitches but amassed 14 swinging strikes, continuing an improving trend in his swinging strike rate and consequently his K Rate. McDonald has now struck out 44 batters over his last 34 2/3 innings, while walking just 10. Prior to this 5-start stretch McDonald looked like the same enigmatic pitcher he's been throughout his career, the one that had yet to post a full season WHIP below 1.38. It's hard to know what to make of this exactly other than he MUST be owned. Along with the jump in K's, McDonald has also cut his BB's below 3.0 BB/9 for the first time in his career. It's possible that the switch has finally flipped on. If I owned McDonald I'd still prefer to try to sell high than trust a guy who has been perpetually inconsistent throughout his career, but this five start stretch has been so overwhelmingly impressive that we have to attribute skill growth with some of it. He should be added in all leagues that he's floating around on the wire.
Carlos Ruiz (C - PHI): Ruiz's insane start to the 2012 season continued on Thursday as he went 4-5 with 3 more RBI's and even stole a base. Ruiz has always had great zone control and plate discipline skills, but a catcher's speed coupled with just adequate power left him as a solid 2nd catcher option who wouldn't hurt you anywhere. This year the man they call Chooch has seen a drastic rise in his ISO (.259, career .135) and all of the sudden he's the top catcher in fantasy baseball. While I own Ruiz in a ton of leagues and I'd like to suggest this is sustainable... the evidence suggests otherwise. Ruiz's unusual power burst has come despite a GB Rate (51%) that is five percentage points above his career average and a LD Rate that is two percentage points below his career average. A 22% HR/FB Rate (career 7.1%) is wildly inflating the power and along with it the RBI production. Ruiz remains a fine catcher option, but last year he finished as the #16 catcher on the player rater. He's an ideal sell high candidate as the 33-year old has started the season performing well above his head.
Zach Cozart (SS - CIN): Cozart got off to a red-hot start to the season that perhaps raised the bar beyond a reasonable level for expectations. Through April 25th Cozart was hitting .284/.351/.463 as the league was having trouble adjusting to the newcomer. To put those numbers in perspective, they would represent career highs in all three statistics (avg/obp/slug) that Cozart had posted at ANY minor league level, with the exception of AA where he posted a .360 OBP. The career .270/.332/.421 minor league hitter has some appealing skills that we could project as a 15-15 threat at Great American Ballpark, but he's NEVER projected as an above average bat. Since that hot start Cozart has fallen apart hitting .208/.250/.361 in his next 76 PA's making fantasy owners question whether he deserves a spot on their roster. When I talked about Cozart early in the preseason and in April I noted expectations of a .250 average with a shot at 15-15 production, but more likely 10-10, making him a viable MI candidate for 12 team leagues and deeper. I think that remains a fair expectation for Cozart. As with all young players there will be highs and lows with Cozart's development as he makes adjustments and the league adjusts back to him. Do your best to avoid riding the roller coaster of emotions along with his performance and recognize his true performance level. If expectations remain in check as a .250 or so hitter with double digit HR's and SB's, he'll likely hold up his end of the bargain; anything beyond that is likely asking too much.
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